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People v. Caswell.

2021 COA 111. No. 18CA0464.  Cruelty to Animals—Prior Convictions.

August 19, 2021

A jury found defendant guilty of 43 counts of cruelty to animals. During sentencing, defendant conceded that she had previously been convicted of cruelty to animals. The trial court treated defendant’s prior conviction as a sentence enhancer rather than as an element of the offense. The prior conviction elevated her misdemeanor offenses to felonies.

On appeal, defendant contended that her prior conviction constituted an element of the offense of felony cruelty to animals that a jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt, and because her prior conviction was not proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, her conviction must be reversed. However, the Colorado legislature intended that a prior conviction constitutes a penalty enhancer rather than a substantive element of the offense, so the court did not err.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred by denying for-cause challenges to three potential jurors who she contends were biased. However, none of these prospective jurors sat on the jury, defendant exercised peremptory strikes to remove them, and there is no evidence that the trial court acted in bad faith in failing to dismiss them. Therefore, the court did not err.

Defendant further argued that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress evidence of dead dogs buried on her property. Because the properly admitted evidence of defendant’s guilt was overwhelming and the evidence regarding the dead dogs was not important to the prosecution’s case, the dead dogs evidence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the court did not err in denying the motion to suppress.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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